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Being pregnant seems to lead to a lot of restrictions, from what we put in our bodies to what we surround ourselves with. Sometimes reading the plethora of online lists of things to watch out for during pregnancy can be incredibly overwhelming. It's important that we learn to prioritize the things that are most potentially harmful for us and our babies so we don't become overly stressed. To that end, I'm writing a series of posts on what I consider the five most important chemicals to avoid during pregnancy. The first of those is bisphenol-A or BPA, an endocrine disruptor found in plastics and canned food linings.
What is BPA?
I’ve already written fairly extensively about avoiding BPA here as well as in my guest blog on Care2, but I believe this is the No. 1 most important chemical to eliminate from your body before, during and after pregnancy. BPA (bisphenol-A) is a potent estrogen mimicker, meaning it can disrupt our bodies’ vital endocrine systems, damaging the reproductive system, causing low sperm counts, cancers and more. Our endocrine systems help control our hormones, which are crucial to the healthy development of babies. Because it's extremely ubiquitous, nearly all of us are exposed to at least some level of BPA. But research shows that even small amounts of BPA can damage fetal development. And babies are often highly exposed to this chemical after birth, because it is found in #7 plastics, which are commonly used to make bottles and sippy cups, as well as the liners of infant formula cans.
You can find numerous studies to associate BPA exposure with a variety of developmental problems. A recent study by researchers at the University of Wisconsin at Madison found that early exposure to BPA created results similar to developmental exposure to mercury — adult fish that had been exposed to even tiny amounts of BPA as embryos has learning and memory problems, and experienced profound behavioral changes not only immediately after hatching, but also in adulthood. The scientist who conducted the study, Daniel Weber, said, “What was amazing is that exposure only happened at the embryonic stage, but somehow the wiring in the brain had been permanently altered by it.”
Another recent study by the Harvard School of Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention measured BPA levels in the urine of mothers at various times in their pregnancy and found that the mothers with higher BPA levels during pregnancy tended to have 3-year-old girls with more anxious and depressed behavior, as reported by Today. The article also quotes Shanna Swan, a professor at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, who says the study supports a growing body of evidence that BPA can affect brain development in the womb.
How to Avoid BPA
Do not drink beverages from or store food in plastic containers, in particular #7 plastic (to be safe, I avoid all plastic food storage and beverage containers). Do not eat canned foods. Nearly all canned foods contain high levels of BPA in the lining. Choose foods stored in glass jars instead. (Eden Foods is one of the only brands that has BPA-free canned food.) After your baby is born, do not use plastic bottles or sippy cups (opt instead for glass or stainless steel like these from Klean Kanteen — even BPA-free plastic can leach endocrine-disrupting chemicals, research has found). And do not feed babies canned infant formula. If you are unable to breast feed, choose dry-pack formula containers instead.